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Is It Already Over?

[fa icon="calendar'] Jun 8, 2015 9:45:52 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By: Carol Pierson-Holding

Last week I met a young man who is about to major in environmental engineering. When he found out I blog about climate change, his first question was, “Is it already over?”

Moon-Trek

Clearly he intended to be provocative. But it was an interesting question from someone about to enter the environmental field. He wanted to talk about solar arrays in space and space elevators. Both are ideas that would in part alter the sun’s radiation, preventing it from warming earth.

Don’t these ideas sound nuts? The National Academy of Sciences agrees, reporting that the idea of increasing the earth’s reflectivity so that more sunlight gets bounced back into space is, in their more tempered language, “fraught.”

Clive Hamilton, the Australian climate change ethicist and author, puts it more strongly in the UN web magazine Our World, “Some of the ideas put forward to block the sun’s heat would be far-fetched even in a science fiction novel.”

The excitement my young student showed was, in its own way, just as troubling. As environmental activist Rachel Smolker blogged in Huffington Post, “What is clear is that climate geoengineering is opening new doors for many career seekers. From scientists with superman complexes, eager to be seen as doing ‘cutting edge’ work with big important global consequence, to various environmental and other NGO careerists seeking grant support, status and a place at the table.”

In other words, geoengineering is the new macho, no matter how otherwise sincere my young friend.

All of the schemes for climate solutions that change the delicate balance between the atmosphere, the ocean and the sun’s energy sound deranged. But what if these ideas seduce us into believing that we can continue to rely on carbon-spewing fossil fuels until all the reserves are used up?

According to Smolker, solar reflectivity and other geoengineering ideas, with the exception of technologies designed to remove emissions such as carbon scrubbing, are diverting our attention, “…from implementing the straightforward, proven, low tech, low risk approaches to saving the planet…like halting deforestation, protecting biodiversity, putting a halt to overconsumption, ending the mining, fracking, clear cutting and burning of the planet…”

Just as with climate change in the early days, scientists are lining up on either side. The predominance of scientific bodies argue for caution. Their projections show the potential harm, as in the weakening of coral reefs and sea life shells that results from fertilizing the ocean with iron or the projected side effect of sprinkling the atmosphere with sulphates, which scientists say may reduce our rainfall.

The most enthusiastic proponents of bioengineering include the fossil fuel companies and their organizations such as the American Enterprise Institute. In 2013, the influential think tank partly funded by ExxonMobil and the Koch brothers, launched a high-profile project to promote “geoengineering,” or as the National Geographic defines it, “intentional intervening in the climate system in an attempt to forestall some of the impact of global warming.”

Shell and ConocoPhillips are investing in geoengineering and using it to buttress their argument that we will don’t have to stop using fossil fuels because we will innovate ourselves out of our climate crisis.

To an ex-branding person like me, the most-telling signal of pro-geoengineering forces’ intentions is the re-branding taking place. From the original and now highly controversial “geoengineering” term to a replacement that turned out to be no better — “climate engineering,” the current moniker is the evocative “climate intervention,” as though the climate has a problem which only humans can fix.

Advocates for “climate intervention” think the best strategy is to alter nature’s delicate balance, to address climate change by changing the climate. But it’s Mother Earth who has the genius for cleaning up messes, not us. Think of the mushrooms currently used to detoxify superfund sites. Surely we can figure out a similar solution to excessive carbon, one that mimics nature rather than destroying it.

Let’s attend to our own “intervention” and fix what we can, those behaviors that caused climate change. We won’t destroy the earth, just our ability to survive on it. It’s our own extinction that’s at stake. The solution is not to alter earth’s magnificent equilibrium but our own self-destructive behavior.

To answer my young friend, no, it’s not over.

Photo courtesy of photophilde via Flickr CC


Carol Pierson HoldingCarol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council’s Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 14,400+ companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 14,400+ companies from 135 industries in 127 countries. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

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[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in American Enterprise Institute, carbon scrubbing, climate change, climate engineering, climate intervention., fracking, geoengineering, global warming, space elevators, Uncategorized, Rachel Smolker, Carol Pierson Holding, Clive Hamilton, environmental, Koch bothers, solar arrays in space, solar reflectivity

Who Gets Hurt From Fed’s Weak Fracking Rules?

[fa icon="calendar'] Mar 25, 2015 9:24:18 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By: Carol Pierson Holding

Regulation can be a great reason to behave well, though industry rarely sees it that way.

Fire2

After five years of planning, 1.5 million comments, intense lobbying from the oil and gas industry, and innumerable photos of tap faucets on fire, the Bureau of Land Management has finally announced new regulations for fracking.

The promise of the rules is robust: we can continue to reduce carbon in the atmosphere, transition from coal to a cleaner burning fuel, and persist in drastically reducing our dependence on imported energy — while, thanks to the new rules, eliminating ground and water contamination from fracking. Industry is forced to behave well and thereby forestalls its most serious opposition.

The rules only cover Federal and tribal lands, representing just 11 percent of the natural gas the U.S. consumes, with the hope that operators on state and private lands will follow suit. But still, whatever the regulations do cover should be a satisfying start, shouldn’t it?

In fact, the rules satisfy no-one. News reports from both sides of the issue claim the regulations are deeply flawed. As reported in Huffington Post, environmental groups call it “toothless,” faulting the exceptions loophole and inspections that are delayed until 30 days after fracking wells are in place. A Harvard Law School study found that the reporting mechanism stipulated by the regulation called “FracFocus,” a chemicals tracking registry used voluntarily by Exxon Mobil and other drillers, fails as a fracking disclosure tool.

On the other side, the Wall Street Journal reports that that the industry was so outraged that it “filed a lawsuit to block the rules just minutes after they were announced.”

That lawsuit can’t be due to the expense of conforming to the new rules, but that’s their excuse. The government estimates the cost of the new safety procedures at $11,400, or less than 1 percent of the cost of drilling a well. Even so, Barry Russell who runs the Independent Petroleum Association, one of the groups suing over the new regulations, insists in the Journal that “At a time when the oil and natural-gas industry faces incredible cost uncertainties, these so-called baseline standards will threaten America’s economic upturn, while further deterring energy development on federal lands.”

It makes more sense that this most powerful industry would resist anyone telling them what to do.

So who is suffering most from the new fracking rules, environmentalists and the citizens they represent, or the oil and gas industry?

Should be an easy call. Fracking has been linked to dire health problems, smog, and water, landscape and wildlife devastation. Federal half-measures must be painful for everyone who lives within contamination range of a fracking operation.

But for the oil and gas industry, weak fracking regulations might end up being  detrimental too. Consider this: many localities are issuing fracking moratoriums and bans, from cities and counties across Texas, Ohio, California, and New Mexico to New York State, Pennsylvania and Hawaii. Nation-wide fracking bans are in place in countries including France, Germany and most recently Scotland.

Even with a U.S. ban on fracking only a distant possibility, couldn’t strong US regulations eventually prove fracking’s workability as a bridge to a greener future, ensuring it is protected from a ban?

That’s exactly what the sustainability community hoped would happen with new regulation. Many want to support natural gas to reduce atmospheric carbon, but they don’t like the risk associated with ground water contamination. Socially responsible investment managers such as Green Century and Sentinel are demanding companies that frack commit to insuring environmental safety and best practices. Tougher regulations could have gone much further in meeting these investor demands.

Likewise, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) sites that guide consumer and institutional behavior such as data aggregator CSRHub (sponsor of this blog) highlight “fracking” as a special issue tag, to identify the sixty one companies involved in fracking.

Weaker rules allow oil and gas companies that frack (and that’s 90 percent of new wells) to continue to contaminate public water and land, while stronger rules could have forced them to behave as good corporate citizens.  Fracking has allowed natural gas companies to become heroes in one sense, offering a cleaner-burning alternative to coal. Loose regulations imply a license to pollute. And that’s got to hurt everyone.

Photo courtesy of Steven Jurvetson via Flickr CC


Carol Pierson HoldingCarol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council’s Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 10,000+ companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 13,736+ companies from 135 industries in 127 countries. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

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[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in fracking, fracking bans, fracking regulations, natural gas, Uncategorized, Independent Petroleum Association, oil and gas, Barry Russell, Carol Pierson Holding, CSRHub, drilling wells, water contamination

Climate Change Advocates Need Positive Branding

[fa icon="calendar'] Sep 16, 2014 9:54:19 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

The idea of branding climate change seems like another exercise in navel-gazing until you China pollutionconsider the effectiveness of the opposition. They’ve got branding down, relentlessly repeating the mantra, “science is inconclusive and solutions are exorbitant and unproven.” On the other hand, environmentalists repeat vague Cassandra-like warnings of “climate change” and “global warming,” supporting dire predictions with confusing statistics, hard-pressed to come up with simple, relevant messages.

Even relatively green media like the New York Times end up reinforcing the fossil fuel messages, especially in their business sections. In an unfortunately common example, Friday’s Huffington Post called out the New York Times for “overhyping the benefits of fracking…(claiming that it was) changing the economic calculus for old industries and downtrodden cities alike.” Fracking equals jobs and a better economy, the article claimed. But Huffington Post reporter Mark Gongloff quoted Dean Baker, co-director of the Center For Economic And Policy Research, who found that in fact fracking communities had a worse record for factory jobs than the U.S. as a whole. Still, when it’s reported in the New York Times

Climate deniers are brilliant at setting up simple, memorable and scary financial calculations that brand climate change activists as prioritizing the environment against the economy. They pit environmental health against jobs. They equate renewable energy with sky-high utility bills. They warn electric cars have no range and will leave you stranded and solar panels will burn your house down. And my favorite, heard quite a bit in the halls of Congress: why should the U.S. pay to clean up the atmosphere when China now emits more greenhouse gas than we do?

Again, even environmentally-friendly media reinforce this trope. The latest is last week’s Rolling Stone article titled “China, the Climate and the Fate of the Planet.” The article is rife with fodder for climate solution obstructionists, starting with author Jeff Goodell’s front page called-out quote:  “If the world’s biggest polluter doesn’t radically reduce the amount of coal it burns within the next decade, nothing anyone does to stabilize the climate will matter.”

True, China’s contribution to atmospheric CO2 is now over 10 billion metric tons a year, and 25 years of climate negotiations have failed utterly. But Goodell’s article did not have to lead with the negative. He could have highlighted that China is now the largest consumer of solar power and that this year, 60 percent of its new energy production was from renewable energy sources, even higher than the U.S. at 53.8 percent. That it’s making every effort to close coal plants. Or that even in the face of beatings or worse, its citizens are still rioting in the streets against fossil fuel production.

Iconic graphic designer Milton Glaser, creator of the “I Love New York” logo, developed a climate change branding campaign with buttons and billboards that feature a black circle fading to a small green strip at its bottom edge over the slogan “IT’S NOT WARMING. IT’S DYING.” Position this message against one of the current denier billboards that proclaims “’Green’ Climate Policies: Probably unnecessary. Certainly ineffectual. Ruinously expensive.” Which one sounds more rationale? More persuasive? Easier to adopt? Commenting for Fast Company, Adele Peters questions Glazer’s negative approach but remains hopeful that he’s tackled the challenge. Her closing thought is absolutely correct: “We need more brilliant designers and marketers tackling the messaging about climate change in different ways--especially in the U.S., which leads the world in climate denial.”

Photo courtesy of DaiLuo via Flickr CC.


Carol Pierson HoldingCarol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council's Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 9,100+ companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 9,100+ companies from 135 industries in 104 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from 339 data sources, CSRHub has created a broad, consistent rating system and a searchable database that links millions of rating elements back to their source. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

 

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Are Earthquakes Our Most Effective Ally Against Fracking?

[fa icon="calendar'] Apr 15, 2014 10:43:17 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson HoldingIn response to pressure from students, faculty — and apparently alumni — who opposeChristchurch, New Zealand earthquake Harvard Endowment’s refusal to divest its fossil fuel stocks, Harvard University’s President Drew Faust’s office issued her second statement on climate change and sent a an email link to Harvard alumni. (N.B.: I am one). Instead of divesting, Harvard will become a signatory to the UN Principles of Responsible Investing and the Carbon Disclosure Project. Alumni are also asked to contribute to a $20 million Climate Change Solutions Fund. Harvard is chipping in $1 million.

Meh…

I was not alone in my reaction.  My email was buzzing with disappointed environmentalists and sustainability investment managers. 100 Harvard faculty members posted a letter objecting to Harvard’s failure to divest. Students who worked so hard for divestment must be crushed.

But really, even Harvard’s full commitment to fossil fuel divestment would be symbolic. Only $33.6 million of the fund’s $33 billion is invested in fossil fuels.

And even Harvard’s entire endowment pales in comparison to the reserves the fossil fuel industry holds, valued at $27 trillion. Or the $100 million a day Exxon alone spends in exploration.

My own stance against Harvard’s failure to divest hasn’t changed. My argument is both moral and economic. Investment research professionals including Asperio Group have proved that fossil fuels aren’t a good investment over time. But even economic arguments don’t get you far in the face of $27 trillion.

If not moral outrage or economics, what can we use to fight fossil fuel companies? Unfortunately, health risks aren’t enough to spur regulators to act. One example: the harm from fracking is widespread and well known. Even oil and gas company executives know that fracking is unhealthy. Exxon’s CEO Rex Tillerson joined a lawsuit against fracking in his wealthy Bartonville, TX neighborhood.

For too many of the rest of us, water degradation from fossil fuel drilling and transport has become a fact of life. We get almost daily reports of leaking or exploding pipes and drilling platforms. Just this past Friday, an oil pipeline leaked into the water plant for Lanzhou, China, contaminating water for its 2.4 million residents and sending a fireball across the landscape.

If even water desecration isn’t enough to rally regulators, what is?

I’m betting on earthquakes.

When a big one hits, as happened as a result of fracking in Christchurch, New Zealand, the results are so grim and last so long as to force action.

Josephine Ensign, a professor at University of Washington who also teaches Community and Environmental Health in New Zealand, visited Christchurch in February. She describes the earthquake’s after effects in her blog Medical Margins:

“I knew we would likely encounter some signs of the destructive earthquakes that hit Christchurch and surrounding areas in September 2010 and again in February 2011 (killing 185 people, including many international students.) But I wasn’t prepared for the magnitude of the still-raw destruction in the downtown core. It’s been almost three years and entire blocks of quaked-out buildings are propped up with shipping containers or just left in charred ruins.”

Just a year after the second earthquake, Christchurch’s city council banned fracking entirely.

In the U.S., fracking has so far caused only tremors. Nonetheless, they are terrifying. As happened in Christchurch, cities are the first entities to ban the practice. Given the frequency of earthquakes in California, it’s no wonder Los Angeles was the largest city in the U.S. to call a moratorium. Other smaller municipalities in California have done the same, joining cities in Texas - including Dallas! -  New York, Vermont and Colorado in either outright moratoriums or limitations so severe the end result is the same.

The state of California is now considering a state-wide ban.

Mass media is a great help to the anti-fracking movement. For example, last Friday night, Brian Williams announced on the NBC Nightly News that state scientists in Ohio linked fracking to recent seismic activity. The Associated Press called it “The Big Story.”

Unlike protests or even poisoned water and soil, earthquakes are shutting down fracking drills all over the world. And that’s more “earth-shattering” than anything Harvard divestment or economic arguments can do.

Image courtesy of Alistair Paterson via Flickr CC.


Carol Pierson HoldingCarol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council's Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 8,900+ companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 8,900+ companies from 135 industries in 102 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from 300+ data sources, CSRHub has created a broad, consistent rating system and a searchable database that links millions of rating elements back to their source. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

 

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[fa icon="comment"] 2 Comments posted in Asperio Group, CSR, fossil fuels, fracking, Harvard divestment, Uncategorized, Medical Margins, sustainability, Rex Tillerson, Carol Pierson Holding, Christchurch earthquake, CSRHub, ohio geologists link tracking and earthquakes

GE’s Ecomagination Lacks Eco and Imagination

[fa icon="calendar'] Mar 12, 2014 9:00:09 AM / by Carol Pierson Holding

By Carol Pierson Holding

Remember back in 2005 when General Electric (GE) launched its Ecomagination contaminated tap waterinitiative? Its purpose, as the liberal news site Grist put it at the time, was “to ramp up development of clean technologies and lighten the company’s Goliath-like environmental footprint.” A noble effort indeed.

Many of the products highlighted in the Ecomagination launch were focused on renewable energy, such as wind turbines and solar voltaic panels. GE’s CEO Jeffrey Immelt announced major investments in eco-friendlier technologies, pledging to double GE’s research-and-development for Ecomagination to $1.5 billion in 2010.

World Resources Institute (WR) then-President Jonathan Lash called Immelt “not only a visionary, but in the absence of coherent national policies…just plain gutsy.” Lash even supported Ecomagination’s clean coal technologies: “Five years ago, I had to struggle to suppress my gag response to terms like ‘clean coal,’ but I’ve since faced the sobering reality that every two weeks China opens a new coal-fired power plant. There is huge environmental value in developing ways to mitigate these emissions.”

Despite many environmentalists insistence that there is no such thing as clean coal, Ecomagination believed it had a winner and sent its advertising staff off to promote it. The result was GE’s 2006 TV spot “GE’s Coal Miners.” In it, gorgeous half-clad male and female models with sweaty, soot-covered bodies pretend to toil in a coalmine…while a narrator intones about GE’s clean coal being beautiful.

It’s so shocking I thought it must be a parody (seriously, take a look), but its production values reveal the kind of wildly expensive commercial only a huge company can afford.

Today, climate change has ascended to the “worst problem facing the world today” as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said last week and coal’s heavy emissions are acknowledged as the climate’s number one enemy.

Who knew in 2005 that 10 years later, China would be the world’s largest solar market, even shutting down its existing coal plants. “Investments in new coal plants (in 2011) weren't even half the level they were in 2005” Justin Guay of the Sierra Club reported in Huffington Post.

In hindsight, Ecomagination’s focus on clean coal seems more delusional than visionary.

Immelt is still at the helm of GE. And the new Ecomagination is again straining credulity with environmentalists for so profoundly getting it wrong.

At least this time its not clean coal or, God forbid after Fukushima, nuclear power. No, this time Ecomagination is focused on natural gas.

Appropriately, I first saw the announcement of GE’s new Ecomagination initiative on the branding website BrandChannel, which headlined “GE Renews Ecomagination Initiative, Commits $25B to CleanTech R&D by 2020.”

Sounds like 2005 all over again.

It’s not that I begrudge the company for trying to make a buck. What gets me hot is that it’s using natural gas as a panacea for the eco set. Really? What we’ve been reading is that the methane leaked from natural gas drilling is worse – some say 20-100% worse - than the emissions released by burning coal. Fracking to release natural gas may cause earthquakes, taints water (remember the video of the farmer lighting his gas-contaminated tap water on fire?) and kills livestock.

Worst of all, natural gas delays the transition away from fossil fuels and into a survivable future at a critical moment.

But maybe GE’s message is designed for a different audience than environmentalists. Maybe Ecomagination is pure lobbying?

Friday’s New York Times editorial “Natural Gas as a Diplomatic Tool” makes that seem a possibility. The piece encourages the U.S. State Department to respond to the crisis in the Ukraine by opening natural gas exports to Europe, where they’re currently banned. The goal is to reduce Europe and the Ukraine’s dependence on Russian gas. Of course that would require “more facilities to liquefy and ship gas…that would cost billions of dollars.” And guess what business GE is in?

Now that’s amazing timing.

Photo is courtesy of http://bit.ly/1dNZNYH


Carol Pierson HoldingCarol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council's Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHub.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 8,900+ companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on 8,900+ companies from 135 industries in 103 countries. By aggregating and normalizing the information from 300+ data sources, CSRHub has created a broad, consistent rating system and a searchable database that links millions of rating elements back to their source. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

 
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[fa icon="comment"] 0 Comments posted in Ecomagination, fracking, GE, General Electric, wind turbine, natural gas, Uncategorized, solar voltaic panels, Jonathan Lash, World Resources Institute, Carol Pierson Holding, clean coal, Jeffrey Immelt

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